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Letters to the Editor: Nov. 1-8 

Self-Serving Nonsense

After reading Gregory M. Knepp's hostile review of the In To My Self show at SPACE [Oct. 25], one wonders (to paraphrase Knepp) how such half-baked observations generate any critical import. I find it all the more astonishing that Knepp, a writer who is ostensibly supporting the arts, can produce (let alone take credit for) such a knee-jerk dismissal of local artists and schools like the Art Institute.

Supporting the arts doesn't mean that one has to like particular artists. But any review, positive or negative, should at least demonstrate some thought on the part of the critic. Knepp is clearly impressed by what he takes to be his clever use of a framing parable (about the horse). But, to me, this only signals the maturity of an insecure seventh-grader who seems to be struggling to write a book report.

When Knepp asks, for example, how he can "distill any inherent value" from Jesse Jamaica McLean's piece, the phrase sounds smart, but in addition to being incoherent ("inherent" value wouldn't need to be "distilled"), such language betrays his ignorance regarding the most basic issues.

This is especially clear when, after he calls Ayanah Moor's contribution "straightforwardly disappointing," Knepp adds that it lacked "any aesthetic import." I wonder: How keen a sense of vision would Knepp have to possess to see that questions of race and gender might play a role in Moor's work? I'll spell it out for him: Moor's contribution to the show presents the video image of a black woman reciting the apparently misogynistic lyrics from what was originally a black man's popular rap video -- the words and images of which explicitly fetishize black women's supposed "big butts." If, as Knepp claims, such a self-reflexive, ideologically charged and provocative performance lacks "any aesthetic import," what possibly could have aesthetic import? As if cutting her a little slack, Knepp confesses that these lyrics "do ring more sincere" in Moor's a capella delivery. However, such a comment doesn't even pretend to acknowledge Moor's intellectual agency and artistic intentions (including her critique, through appropriation, of racial and gendered objectification in commercial media).

Finally, painting himself (somewhat like Bill O'Reilly) as the lone voice of reason adrift in a sea of artsy "narcissism" and "inside jokes," Knepp takes Eric Fleischauer's humorous piece, "excuses, excuses," purely at face value, as nothing more than Fleischauer's literal "excuse" for the poor quality of his contribution. As if this weren't insulting enough, Knepp then reprimands Fleischauer for failing to turn in the appropriate assignment. Lest we mistake "excuses, excuses" for being an example of Knepp's own (utterly confused) definition of "conceptual" art, Knepp reassures us that his view of the piece will be far more sober and precise. Thus, evidently proud of his ability to come up with vapid formulations that have a genial ring to them, he frames his own dismissal of Fleischauer's piece in terms of the idea of "pissed-away" homework. In other words, after summarily rejecting the kinds of concept he associates with conceptual art, Knepp, in his bewildered reaction to "excuses, excuses," relies on a concept that he's more familiar with (homework) in order to trash the piece -- a far simpler and more recognizable concept to the mind of a typical seventh-grader.

-- William Scott, Squirrel Hill


Peduto no progressive

What a strange world Chris Potter inhabits ["Political Exorcise," Oct. 18]. Bill Peduto, the aspiring mayor, is characterized as a "progressive," a "reform" candidate. In Potter's world, words do not mean what most of us thought they meant. Despite the interpretation of Shadyside liberals, progress and reform do not come from stripping away the little bit of democracy that Pittsburghers now enjoy by reducing the number of elected positions. Nor do they come from making Pittsburgh more user-friendly for the rich and upper-middle class. What has become known as "social liberalism" -- a patronizing tolerance for choices -- fails to address the everyday lives of most Pittsburghers.

Yes, tolerance is necessary for the good life, but not sufficient for those without good jobs, public transportation, adequate health care, safety or other endangered public services.

In fairness to Peduto, there have been few, if any, reform or progressive candidates in many decades. Progress and reform mean putting the interests of the majority ahead of the privileged few. Tax deferrals, exemptions and forgiveness, as well as public subsidies for corporations and the wealthy fail to meet any rational person's measure of reform or progress. It is not in the spirit of reform to throw money at grandiose development schemes and then deny money for roads, sidewalks, sewer lines, senior citizen and recreational centers, playgrounds, trash pick-up, affordable public transportation, public health, public safety or low-cost residential housing.

When a candidate addresses these inequities, we can dust off the venerated words "reform" and "progressive." Until then, Potter should find another way to describe Pittsburgh politicians.

-- Greg Godels, Point Breeze

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